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20 Years and Counting

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What does it take to be the dean of the young, ambitious and vibrant Naveen Jindal School of Management for 20 years? With no further ado, I present Dean Hasan Pirkul in celebration of the 40th anniversary of our school.

What have you learned from JSOM students?

It is that the American dream is alive and well. Politicians and others today draw a bleak picture of what the future holds. Old folks think that the millennial generation is not working hard enough. Let me make it clear that the best days of United States are ahead of us and not behind us.

What I see from my JSOM students are that they are focused, hardworking and driven. I am confident that they are going to better than our generation.

What has been your proudest JSOM memory so far?

We are in the education business, so typically the things that make me proud are the successes of our students, and there have been many. Every year we send students to competitions around the U.S., and they come back with wins against the very best in the nation.

Generally, those are the days when I am the happiest, and proud of our JSOM students. Similarly it also makes me proud when our faculty members get recognized for their research and leadership accomplishments.

Other proud moments are when our alumni come back and help us. As you know, the school was named after an alumnus; the day he agreed to name the school as the Jindal School; that was a proud day. Similarly the Davidsons have been very generous and have given back multiple times. In addition, today literally thousands of alums give back to the school in different ways. It is amazing when you realize that we actually did make a difference in people’s lives and that they come back to help us to do the same for generations to come.

So there you go; there is no one particular moment but many good moments about successes of JSOM’s students, alums and faculty that make me a very proud dean.

Let us travel back 20 years. What was your mission and vision for JSOM?

Let’s get to the present day and time. What is your current vision and mission for JSOM?

Twenty years ago when I took this job, within a week, (the then-president of UT Dallas) Dr. Franklin Jenifer invited me to a reception to meet his board. I stood up and told the board exactly the following:

“I am very happy to be here. Let me tell you that I accepted this job because I want to build a nationally relevant, internationally recognized, first-class business school, and if I don’t think I could do that, I would not have accepted the job; and any time in the future if I think we are not making progress toward that, I will leave.”

So I stuck my neck out and told them exactly what we were going to accomplish, 20 years back.

The goal was straightforward. We wanted to build one of the leading schools in the nation. So this is what we set out to do 20 years ago, and we have repeated that over time, and we continue doing that to this day. Recently, we had our 40th anniversary celebration dinner. They wanted me to talk about the next 40 years and I said, “I can’t see 40 years into the future, but if you look at our accomplishments in the past 20 years, we have earned the right to demand from ourselves to become the best public business school in the nation. So that’s the goal — not one of the best but the best.”

I think that is what the future holds, and that we can absolutely do it, and we will do it.

What are the perks of being dean of JSOM?

The perks of this position are that I am making a difference in people’s lives. So the happiest days in the calendar are the days of graduation. That is the perk. I get to shake the hands of 1,000-plus students twice a year and send them off on their way to their productive lives. It is just wonderful to have the opportunity to make a difference in so many people’s lives. That is the best thing one can ever ask for.

Happiness is a state of mind, and we can control what the state of our mind is….We choose to be happy or unhappy. People often don’t stop and think, and they fall into a pattern of being an unhappy person.

Some people are happy, and some are unhappy. They have similar circumstances, similar things happen to them. Yet, the difference is that the group that is happy has chosen to be happy, and the other has chosen to be unhappy.

Once you understand that, you can change your life. All that I ask of my young students is to urge them to make a conscious decision to be happy and follow it up with a list of things that make them happy. Often, people think that if they change their job, they will be happy. But changing your job or moving to a new city is not the answer; you have to change your mind. This may be that one life lesson that can be the hardest to come by.

So in summary, they should choose to be happy, and understand that often most of us become happy when we help others, when we are a positive influence in others’ lives. So start volunteering and help others. All of a sudden you will realize that your attitude about life starts changing too.

What are three facts about Dean Pirkul that we don’t know?

  • I am a romantic at heart.
  • I am very domestic, meaning I like to make my own cheese, cook and those kinds of things. My bucket list includes having a vegetable garden, raising my own food — I have done that in the past — and living a simple life.
  • I am very inquisitive; I have an insatiable appetite for learning. I crave knowledge. I love history and anthropology among other things.

What are some of your other interests besides academics and making JSOM awesome?

My hobby is real estate. I invest in land. I am always looking to find a piece of land that is undervalued, buying it and keeping it for the long term and, when the time is right, selling it. I have not sold that many, but over the years I have accumulated some properties, and that is my hobby. I am also very social. I like to hang out with my friends and play poker once in a while and generally have lively conversations.

How different/similar is Dean Hasan from family man Hasan?

He is exactly the same. I am one and the same person everywhere I go. I am upfront, passionate and very candid.

Describe a typical day in Dean Pirkul’s life, any morning ritual or routine that you follow?

I get up; if I am hurting badly, I take a couple of Advil, get to work, go back home and eat my soup. I don’t have any idiosyncrasies. Sorry to disappoint you if you were expecting some miracle morning routine.

Any event from your 20 years as dean that particularly stands out?

I remember going to lunch with Dr. Jenifer, the then-president of UTD, him making me the offer; that’s a special memory. The conversation we had is vivid.

I remember my first meeting with Dr. [Hobson] Wildenthal (then provost and now president ad interim of UT Dallas) and the advice he gave me.

I also remember visiting Naveen Jindal and meeting him for the first time and talking to him about his life at UT Dallas and what he got from UT Dallas. That conversation we shared made me feel so proud that UTD was able to make such an impact in his life.

The day the visiting committee told us that they were going to recommend that we will be accredited by AACSB.

The day I learned that we were ranked by U.S. News & World Report for the first time in our history.

So those are some things that are kind of milestones in my mind.

POP Quiz for Dean Pirkul!

1. (Any) three things that best represent JSOM?

Our students – our faculty - our staff.

2. Three books that have influenced you?

  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • Ince Memed
  • The Grapes of Wrath

3. Favorite cuisine and your signature dish?

Thai is my favorite cuisine.

Broad noodles (sweet and sour) is my most favorite dish.

4. All-time favorite quote that gets you up and going?

Life is too short.

5. What would be your secret ingredients for success?

  • Keeping a positive mental attitude.
  • Perseverance.
  • Hard work.

6. Favorite actress?

Charlize Theron.

7. What is happiness to Hasan Pirkul?

Happiness to me is helping others.

8. Three words to describe Hasan Pirkul as a kid and three words to describe Hasan Pirkul now?

As a kid — mischievous,competent, restless.

Now — passionate, inquisitive, hardworking.

9. Your thoughts on the road not taken?

I literally believe that the life of a human being is a random walk. The random walk is mathematical terminology, a probabilistic theory that certain things happen to you along the way.

So you can think of all the possible lives of a single person being infinitely many. We basically, along this random walk, make decisions while things happen to us. Things happen to us, and we call that karma. I agree that we cannot control what happens to us, but what we do is our response and is under our control, and by making those decisions, we decide on whom we become and what we do in this life.

I never look back and say, I wish I did this or that….I always look forward — What is it that I want to accomplish with the rest of my life? Because I want to make sure that my life means something. Now remember how I mentioned that my favorite quote was “Life is short”? Well, with the very short amount of time I have in this world, I must accomplish….I don’t want it to go to waste, so I am always looking forward to doing the next thing.

10. If you could write a book, what would it be about, and what would you call it?

It will be called the Road to Success. In it, I will share my philosophy of making a difference in this world and being successful, and what success is all about.

As I write this down, I can’t help but think how authentic all of this felt. It is indeed true, all of it, especially that if you are passionate enough, no dream is too big. Ask any proud JSOMer and its even prouder dean. JSOM could not have had a more amazing dean with more passion and zeal to take it to new heights every day. Thank you, Dean Pirkul, Thank you for not just believing in us but for leading our cherished JSOM through such tremendous growth and for helping us make the American dream possible.

Devi Priya Karuppiah

Devi is a graduate student in the ITM program at the Naveen Jindal School of Management and is currently serving as a research assistant. She previously worked as a technical writer. She calls herself a right brained, ambiverted-neophile. She loves spending her time trying out new things and aspires to write a book someday! Read more articles

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